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Tuesday 19 April 2011

Five Question Interview With Actor PETER JAMES SMITH

Peter James Smith is a terrific actor whose work I have enjoyed for many years. He's done stints on all the shows you love-- CSI, 24, Friends, and as as a regular for seven years on The West Wing. Five question interviews are great because we get to skip there 'where did you grow up' talk and get right to the heart of the work, the acting. It's a topic that Peter knows plenty about.

You have this habit of turning up in nearly every TV show I watch. I think I mentioned to you that I was casually watching 'Friends' a few weeks back, and there you were! I am always interested to know what it's like, as an actor, to work for one or two episodes on such iconic shows as 'Friends', 'E.R.', '24', etc. How is the experience? Is it daunting to step into --- and is it sad when the job is over?

Every experience is different. On Friends, the thing I remember most from being on the set was how friendly Jennifer Anniston was. From E.R., I remember how efficient the whole process was. From 24, I remember staying up all night long and watching them film a car crash. That was cool.

These experiences aren't necessarily daunting--I think it depends a lot on the friendliness of the cast, crew and director of the show/episode. I have had some wonderful welcoming experiences and experiences where I felt less than welcome.

I do tend to go into a little depression after the end of any job I have--whether it's an on camera job or an on stage job.

I also remember little lessons I learn on each job and audition to help me on future jobs and auditions. Out of the jobs mentioned above, I think the lesson I use the most is the one I learned on the Friends audition. The lesson I learned there was that one's personality is at least equally as important as one's acting ability. If I can show a bit of my personality... my wit, my friendliness, my banter, my willingness to work with changes... I think it makes the people in the room want to work with me. They not only want someone that can do the job, but someone they would enjoy working with.

How do you like your relationship with the Director to be -- what is the ideal? Do you like to be left alone, or do you like lots of access to the director?

I'd love access to the director. However, I find--especially in television--there is so little time to get an amazing number of elements to come together, that the director may find the technical elements a lot more attention-consuming than the acting. So, most of the time I feel my job is to come in with my choices made. If the director wants any adjustments, it seems best if I'm able to do them quickly and smoothly.

There have been times where I do feel that the director takes the time to talk to me about what I'm doing --and I love when that happens-- but it feels like an exception rather than a rule.

I'd like to mention theater here. I think one of the things that a theater director told me that I think is brilliant is the director's job is to guide the actor into what the director wants the actor to do, but to do it in such a way that the actor thinks it was the actor's idea the whole time.

How is preparing for a stage role different to comparing for a screen role?

I think, again, because of the fast turn around in television--one's best tool is oneself. Be as natural and reactive as you would be in that actual situation.

Whereas, in theater, I feel one has time to build a different person entirely.

Why do you love acting?

Thanks for this question. It's been a while since I thought of it. I believe that acting, at it's highest, can put an audience into a character's shoes. In that way, a type of person that an audience member might not know much about, or perhaps even fear or dislike in some way--the audience could get to know this person and become more understanding of this type of person and, as a result, there is a little less ignorance and a little less prejudice in the world.

There are so many ups and downs when working in this industry. Especially for actors; one minute you have a heap of offers and projects, the next you're unemployed and nothing is coming your way. How do you deal with that? Has it gotten easier over the years?

It's funny. I don't think of how I deal with it. I just live my life in the every day and take what life does bring me--whether it's a heap of offers or a free day to go walking on the beach. It hasn't gotten easier. There is a certain level of acceptance... but there are also moments of panic when thinking about money or about making enough as a union actor to qualify for health benefits.


  1. Thanks for posting this interview Kid and thank you Peter for allowing a complete outsider like myself an insight into the world of acting.
    I've enjoyed it.

  2. Great interview! I love Peter James Smith's acting, and enjoy being surprised when I see him pop up in a television show too. Did you see him on Monk?

  3. Thanks, Paul and EM, for reading and, Kid, for askin' me to chat with you.